California bill aims to cut permit time for EV charging stations

California has by far the most electric cars of any state, but the permitting process for new charging stations can take substantially longer than elsewhere. A new bill introduced in the California State Assembly aims to address that.

The bill would streamline the permitting process for charging stations by amending Section 65850.75 of California’s Government Code, which covers zoning.

It would require any application to be automatically deemed complete after five business days if no issues are found, and approved after 15 business days if regulators have not made findings showing an adverse impact from the construction.

The bill was applauded by Electrify America, the entity created to spend $2 billion of Volkswagen diesel-emissions penalties on zero-emission vehicle infrastructure.

In a statement, Electrify America said the permitting process for its stations can take 70% longer in California than the rest of the nations. Stations must be redesigned 30% more often in California, and end up costing 20% more, according to Electrify America.

California already has a law on the books to streamline permitting (AB1236, passed in 2015) but Electrify America claims 80% of California cities and counties are not following it.

Legislature like this has helped make California the biggest market for electric cars in the nation, but the concerns of Electrify America and other charging-network operators show that more can be done.

The network operator and charging-infrastructure company ChargePoint was a key supporter of AB 1236, but it hasn’t yet voiced support for the new effort. “While we appreciate the intent of AB 2168, ChargePoint has not yet taken a position on the bill,” said spokesman Darryll Harrison. “We are actively engaged with a variety of stakeholders to determine the best approach to expediting permit processing and hope to have more to share in the coming weeks.”

Electrify America DC fast chargers at San Francisco Premium Outlets, Livermore, California

Electrify America DC fast chargers at San Francisco Premium Outlets, Livermore, California

In late 2019, a report prepared for Tesla and ChargePoint found that it costs an average four to six times as much to retrofit parking spaces for charging in California as it does to build the spaces as part of new construction.

That presents a major issue for electric-car charging in urban areas, where most drivers live in apartment buildings or condos that weren’t built with charging in mind.

California faces these issues despite an overall favorable attitude toward electric cars from drivers and lawmakers. That’s not the case elsewhere.

When London earmarked about $5.8 million for the installation of charging stations, politicians still held up permits over concerns that the stations were too ugly.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Portland, Oregon, is one of the top early-adopter markets for electric vehicles, with enthusiastic residents snapping up everything from Nissan Leafs to small neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs).

Unlike California, Oregon already has a simplified building code and permitting process that allows for quicker installation of new charging stations. Perhaps Oregon’s neighbor to the south could learn something from that.

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